Smile! How your digital camera can save your vacation

Pretty much everyone owns a digital camera now. Even your grandma, although she may not understand how to work it. But most of us are still using them exactly the way we used those old Kodak cameras: for souvenirs. They're best for that, of course, but there are other money-saving and life-saving tricks you can use them for.

1. When you accept a rental car
Take pictures of your new car from every angle before you drive it off the lot. In addition to the prior paper damage report you sign when you check out the vehicle, those images can serve as proof of its condition should your rental company try to pull a fast one and charge you for damage that wasn't there, or to claim you came back with a dent that was worse than what you left with. Make sure you get the license plate in there.
2. To keep track of your credit cards
Don't you think it's pretty stupid that if your cards are stolen, the phone number you need to report the theft is printed on the back of the card that's gone? Take photos of each of your credit cards, front and back, so that if they're stolen, you'll have the numbers you need. Just cover the last four digits of each card with a little piece of paper. Those four digits appear on all the bills and receipts that only you see, so you'll have them elsewhere. Even if a crook sees these pictures, it'll take a little time for them to piece the two numbers together, and by that time, you'll have had the time to alert your credit card issuer and close off your account. Shoot any card you might need (insurance card, maybe?), and print a copy if you can, in case your camera is stolen, too.

3. When you're navigating a confusing place

Many large city parks -- London's Hampstead Heath, New York's Central Park -- post maps on boards at their entrances. Take a picture of it as you enter and you can pull it up on the screen as you navigate the sprawl. Handy maps are everywhere. Even the medieval casbah of Tunis has one so that visitors don't get lost in the maze of market streets. Don't delete it when you leave, because those maps make for evocative keepsakes. If nothing else, it saves you the cost of another map.

4. When you park in a huge parking lot

"Remember, Dad, we're in Goofy 58. Goofy 58, Dad." You could try to keep track. Or you could just take a photo of the sign that says "Goofy 58" and be done with it. (Aren't you glad you took a photo of your rental car earlier so that you know what you're looking for?)

5. To record your passport details
Take a shot of the informational page. It won't get you across a border, but it will make it easier to replace your passport if it's lost or stolen.

It doesn't cost anything to take lots of digital photos and store them on your phone. If your memory is lousy, you can take a shot of anything you'd prefer to hold onto, like the code you used to lock your valuables into the hotel safe. I sometimes use it to preserve memories such as menus -- I love my shot of the menu page of The Noble Nest St. Petersburg, Russia, that listed bear as a main course.

Just don't put so much on your camera that if it were stolen, a third party could track you down or use the information. So don't take a photo of your hotel and your room number, and remember to cover up the last few numbers of those credit cards. Be wary about anything with your Social Security number or home address on it.

Otherwise, consider your digital camera to be your note pad, your legal proof, your copy machine, and your personal navigational device, too.

What other novel ways for using your digital camera have you come up with?
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